Suffer for Fashion: A rich man’s Olympic wear?

February 11, 2010

With the Winter Olympic games just around the corner, there’s quite a bit of talk on the Internet about what the team uniforms for the parade of athletes at opening ceremonies will look like. Okay, well, not really. As a matter of fact, nobody I know is really twittering, blogging or status-updating about the Winter Olympics at all. With the exception of Stephen Colbert financing the speed skating teams and the perpetually drunk and volatile skier Bode Miller being his usual self, I don’t see any legitimate reason to get all that excited about the winter games this year.

Perhaps I’m biased. I’ve never been skiing myself, never tried my hand at the oh-so-practical skeleton, never been in a riveting curling competition. I’ll admit the skiing and shooting Biathalon is James Bond-caliber cool, but the rest of it just seems like powdery-snow pastimes for the prep-school privileged.

I won’t go as far as agreeing with the late Jim Murray’s comment that the Games are more or less a playtime for the elite—take the aforementioned Bode Miller for example. Raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire by solstice-worshiping parents, Bode isn’t quite the archetype boarding-school-kid-turned-Olympian—but the United States has done little to challenge this perception so common among those of us who begrudgingly put up with these ski-resort contests ruining regularly scheduled programming every four years.

An obvious way to give the games a new image may be as simple as changing the way American athletes dress. Continuing to contract with American designer Ralph Lauren does little to change my—or anybody else’s—opinion that the winter games are restricted to those who can afford them.

From 2008’s Beijing games through London in 2012, the United States will continue to allow Ralph Lauren, well-known for attiring the upper echelons, to dress American athletes. For the Beijing games, RL was criticized for its uniforms that made track stars, swimmers, and everyone else look like members of an old boys yachting club. The designer was also disparaged for making his Polo logo larger than that of the Olympic rings on the jackets.

This year, Ralph Lauren has stitched up an impressive looking line of garments to keep our athletes warm in Vancouver over the next few weeks of competition. But keeping athletes warm isn’t enough to warm up the rest of the nation to the idea of sitting through two hours of bobsledding without funny Jamaican accents and John Candy.

The uniforms consist of dark navy puffy jackets with red trim, snow-white tapered pants, wooly sweaters galore, and Fair Isle knit hats. The look was supposedly inspired by the 1932 Lake Placid Games, but a quick Google Images search reveals that those athletes seemed to have been given standard issue white pea coats for warmth.

Regardless, the Polo logo this year once again dwarfs the Olympic rings, and the athletes will look more like oddly shaped Ralph Lauren catalogue models ready to flash a golden smile than athletes ready to take home gold. As a marketing major, I’m not one to outright criticize blatant brand placement in the name of sports integrity, but when Ralph Lauren announced that the athletes’ clothes are for sale on its website—with sweaters priced at a couple hundred dollars each—it became clear that this year’s games will not be any more accessible to the disillusioned masses.

For the time being, I’ll continue to be blissfully unaware of the Winter Olympics. Unless I get the opportunity to try out the luge with dining hall trays during all these snow days, I probably won’t feel the need to run out and blow my savings on Ralph Lauren clothes to look like an Olympian.

Peel off that Ralph Lauren jacket and tell Keenan all about your favorite Olympic events at ktimko@georgetownvoice.com.


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